Take 5: Zoom, Tilt and Pandemic - A New Perspective for Retail Video Technology within the current COVID-19 climate? By Simon Futcher

by Simon Futcher

Video In Retail

A ‘Take 5’ reflection on the ERC Retail Loss Group’s latest webinar series on the use of Video Technology in the retail industry during the current pandemic.  

A number of years back, I was amazed to hear of the noise on local social media of research findings that showed Salisbury, my home city, to be one of the most CCTV covered in the UK per capita. ‘Big Brother’ was used to describe the watching of a small city centre by a large control room of over 60 camera inputs. However, move the clock forward to 2018 and the rumblings of over-installed CCTV disappeared following the espionage poisonings that took place. The community at large became thankful for the investment that had been made in Salisbury, as authorities were able to trawl public and private CCTV footage to identify the ‘what’ & ‘who’ questions of the shocking incident. All of this proved that in difficult and testing situations, video technology is a vital advantage to have and be able to use.

We now find ourselves in a new and global situation with the Pandemic of COVID-19 and probably one that we would never have envisaged a year ago. The key question for retailers as part of that is how they could proactively work in unprecedented situations to ensure they are working to stop the spread of the virus, keep colleagues & customers safe, ensure local authorities are appeased with data, and keep expenditure is kept to a minimum. Unsurprisingly, video technology is one of those areas that retailers are actively reviewing to see if it can help them manage the new situations that arise.

On its launch last month, the ECR report, ‘Reviewing the Use of Video Technologies in Retail’ made a significant caveat:- 

“It should be noted that this research was undertaken prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic that swept around the world in early 2020. At the time of publication, it continues to have a profound impact upon the world of retailing, although how long-lasting its effect will be is impossible to predict. It is also hard to know at this stage how it may influence the use of video technologies by retailers, although early reactions suggest it could play some role in helping to manage customer counting and social distancing.”  

With this in mind, it was really apt and timely to be invited as a guest to the first of the ECR Retail Loss Group’s latest monthly on the back of the research paper - the subject being - ‘The Use of Video Technology in a Pandemic’.  

There were a good number of retailers from around the globe who shared what they have been doing, including excellent presentations from Meijer, Kaufland and Aldi UK.  

Below are my ‘Take 5’ from the webinar for anyone who missed it, or anyone who wanted to view another practitioner’s thoughts: -

 ·       A Vast Variety of Video Technology Uses to Help Solve Problems of the Pandemic - There was a real variation between companies if they were using (or going to use) video technology to help them in the current pandemic or planning for future pandemics. It was really interesting to hear how Meijer are now rolling out their people counting solution to not only help their retail teams manage people numbers better but also give due diligence where necessary for local enforcement. Kaufland have had trials of people counting and then have decided that at present they will not use the technology further. The Co-op mentioned that they are only going to trial some form of door control/people counting in tourist areas where footfall is more difficult to manage manually. Another company said that they were doing nothing new with video technology because of the small size of their stores and staff teams. However, the two-common themes for those using a solution were that firstly, they were all using the video technology to count/control store capacity numbers and that secondly, accuracy comparisons of manual counting vs technology counting were far more accurate with the use of the technology. As a side note, it was interesting to note that there were no retailers on the webinar who said they were using, or planning to use, technology to monitor social distancing in their stores - although this does tend to be more on the responsibility of the consumer to keep within a country’s guidance to stay safe.

·       Local Legislation Makes a Difference to Investment Decisions - The decision-making process by individual retailers seemed to be being influenced by each country’s local government legislation and their due diligence evidence requirements. The excellent presentation by Kaufland, was able to show that legislation was a key part of the decision making for each country they traded in and that their board’s final decision was that the technology should only be rolled out if the country’s legislation required it. 

·       The Variety of Technology Types Being Used - Again, no real common similarities between what technology was being used by different companies to support the process of controlling store numbers. But it was interesting to hear of those who had brought dormant CCTV people counting modules in the past and were now using the technology; or those who were investing in new technologies of people counting equipment and new CCTV camera systems/modules;  or, as in Aldi’s presentation, actual door control technology that stops people entering a store when the maximum number permitted in store has been reached. One company explained that they were re-using their current handsets with additional IT builds. So many different solutions, but everyone trying to make the right and quickest decisions for their business.

·       A Robust ‘Return on Investment’ Model is Key - The contributors who seemed to have most success with a video technology solution seemed to have a good, robust, ‘Return on Investment’ model which is actualising at around 3-4 weeks. The key to that model working is the investment made versus the labour or security costs to either control the front doors and/or manual people count. Without being able to use a labour/security cost reduction as the main saving, the investment of video technology will probably be reliant on a good business case of the need for evidence and  the cost of fines that could be faced, or potential brand and sales impact of loyal customers choosing to shop in a perceived safer store environment of a competitor.

·       What Use is an Investment Post-Pandemic? - The long-term use of video technology post-pandemic is a question that a number of companies had investigated as part of their investment. It seems that, in line with Professor Beck’s thoughts, most investing retailers will use the technology to continue to people count, either to aid marketing department decisions, or to look at footfall versus till transaction numbers and the purchasing decisions of customers. I can imagine some percentage footfall conversion Key Performance Indicator being derived to understand if a store is doing well, or to see if any marketing campaigns make a difference to customer numbers or turnover. But ultimately, the question of what use the video technology will have post-pandemic is an important one to build into in any business case to give it true value.

In summary, it is always good to be able to be a part of a group discussion with other professionals who are all wrestling with a common, global problem. Yes, each country’s overall requirements in this ongoing pandemic may vary (even the UK has different guidance/laws in each of the four devolved countries) but each retailer is having to prioritise colleague and consumer safety before anything else now in this new world.

It is also positive to hear that a number of retailers are solving their pandemic problems through video technologies. Usually, when investing in video technologies, most Loss Prevention and Security departments have on going struggles in the boardroom to provide a robust ‘Return on Investment’ model, with conversations that turn into ‘needs and wants’ based on tight capital expenditure budgets. But the pandemic has shown there are real, tangible and long-term benefits of video technology investment to solve problems - not just shrink and cash loss savings usually attributed, but that are most of the time difficult to realise. Hopefully, as we continue this webinar series we will start to see and hear more of the benefits in the use of video technology to solve problems in the industry.


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